We Were Looking for a Few Good Men

February 21st, 2013

Willie Mays, Sergio Martinez, and Joe Torre on April 12, 2012 at a gathering of national leaders in violence prevention called “The Y Factor-Men Leading by Example”. Futures without Violence’s International Center to End Violence.    Photo by Joseph Driste courtesy of Futures without Violence

“There are a lot of good guys out there, who are dying for the opportunity to do something, because, after all, it’s their mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends who are being victimized”  Municipal Court Judge Ron Adrine

Almost fifteen years ago, the Waitt Foundation and Futures Without Violence went looking for a few good men and…we found them.  And then, they found us.  What we learned was what we already knew.  There weren’t a few…there were many.  This is just a piece of the story of  our involvement with the men who made the decision to stand with women, and use their voices, their power, their positions, and their resources to make a difference in preventing violence against women and girls.  Standing on the shoulders of women leaders, and like those women, they HAVE made a difference.

It started for us in the late 1990’s.  A former colleague and domestic violence activist, Judy Stafford, approached me with an idea.  She asked us to think about new partners in domestic violence prevention-men.  It wasn’t completely new.  There were men already out there doing the work, such as Mentors in Violence Prevention founder Jackson Katz,  Men’s Resource’s Center founder Steven Botkin, former Philadelphia Eagles player Don McPherson, NOMAS, and the venerable White Ribbon Campaign in Canada.  They were connecting  with others and  starting to speak up and speak out, working collaboratively with the women who were pioneers in the anti- battering movement in America and elsewhere.   But, as Judy saw it, the budding movement needed some help from men from outside the movement, men in  politics, media, sports, and business.  She asked us, and more specifically, asked my brother Ted to not only consider putting the Waitt Foundation’s considerable funds behind the idea, but his voice as well.

He did consider it, and he acted.  His green light took us to our crucial first contact with Esta Soler at Futures Without Violence, then the Family Violence Prevention Fund.  Esta, already a national leader in the field of violence prevention, is a woman who gets things done, and those things tend to be big.  Her advice?  If we wanted men in the movement, we’d have to ask them not only “if” they’d do it, but “how” they’d do it.  We asked and they told us.  Our 2000 Peter D. Hart Research national poll said that they would get involved, they just hadn’t been asked.  The “how” was that they were willing to talk to boys.  Out of that research came a multi-year Advertising Council campaign  that ran from 2002-2006 that asked men across the country to be role models and mentors to boys coming of age.  It hadn’t been done before and it began to move needles. From a baseline study in 2001, we learned that only 29% of men had talked to boys about the issue of relationship violence.  By 2007, that number had increased to 55%.

“Awaiting Instructions” campaign, part of Future’s without Violence multi- year marketing campaign with the Ad Council

During the same time period Ted became the first chairman of what is called “The Founding Fathers”, a group of men from all walks of life committed to public action and public statements about ending violence against women and girls.  He and other men made phone calls to men in leadership positions across the country to not only lend their voice, but give their resources to this issue. On Father’s Day 2003, 350 men  joined in an historic public statement to call for an end to violence against women and children. Their pledge along with signatures of all those men,  appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times.Over the next few years, many of those men joined activists and policy leaders at events in New York and Washington D.C., working with women and men who were “in the trenches” in any way they could.

One of those ways to get into the trenches was to gather a group of activists and sports figures, such as former Boston Celtics player and coach M. L. Carr, to create an on ground program that Futures Without Violence, the leader of this effort,  called “Coaching Boys into Men”.  Again, when men were asked how to help, they, along with the women who are always at the table,  came up with something tangible.  In this case, the program that was developed used the influence of coaches to talk to young male athletes about respect for girls and women.  The program premiered in 2005 and was introduced in all 50 states and 23 countries.  It’s still growing.

We began to see a sea change in the sheer numbers of men coming to the table to help.  Baseball legend Joe Torre’s mother suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her husband, and prompted Joe to start his own foundation called “Safe At Home”.  He remains one of our strongest allies.  Mark Wynn, a former police lieutenant, tells the story of  being the stepson of a man he calls ” a criminal”, who beat his mother before the time there were laws on the books.  Mark now devotes his life to speaking to future law enforcement professionals and others in hopes that they’ll begin to understand the dynamics of domestic violence.   People touched by what Gloria Steinem calls “original violence” are in your town and in your neighborhood and many of them are men like the man I had lunch with today, a former politician, whose mother was brutally murdered by a stepfather when he was in the 5th grade.  Joining those men who may have acted to prevent the violence they personally witnessed were other men, like my brother and so many others, who may not have been touched by family violence, but could see how vital curbing this violence is to the future of our country and to our world.

We can see the traction in this movement against violence and see where it’s making a difference. Men’s groups such as Men Can Stop Rape, A Call to Men, and Men Stopping Violence began to grow and expand. Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, Byron Hurt, Tom Keith, Joe Ehrmann and others were writing books, making films, and speaking to college campuses about the importance of engaging men and boys.  The Global MenEngage Alliance has more than 300 non governmental organizations worldwide. A CDC-funded evaluation of  Futures’ “Coaching Boys into Men”  found that athletes who participated were significantly more likely to report intentions to intervene when witnessing abusive or disrespectful behaviors among their peers than those not in the program.  “Mentors in Violence Prevention”, a peer to peer in- school bystander program we have partnered with for 13 years, shows promise in improving school culture – with a significant decrease in the percent of students perpetrating one or more bullying behaviors in schools where MVP has been implemented.   Those are just two of the programs now doing the crucial work educating young people.  “Engaging Men” as allies in educating young men and women is now a strategy recognized by the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Clinton Global Initiative, the World Health Organization, and the White House.

The story doesn’t end there. There are many battles still raging on the front lines.   Though progress is being made and domestic violence has decreased, the numbers are still staggering.  Women suffer two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year, and an estimated seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred. Despite this, vital funds and services to victims in my own home state of Iowa, as in many others, are being cut.

The future. Kids on the ground as part of Mentors in Violence Prevention in Sioux City, Iowa 2012   Photo by Dr. Alan Heisterkamp courtesy of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention

It takes time to change social norms that accept violence as a part of life.  Women have been working on the issue of family violence for over a century.   Men as allies are new to this movement,  but as women are half of humanity, so are men. The majority of men don’t batter, but some of them like Joe Torre  and Mark Wynn have been witnesses to assaults on their sisters, daughters, mothers, colleagues, and friends.   Every man can do something to help and do it in concrete ways. They can give to vital protection programs for women and children such as local shelters, they can speak to policy leaders in their town and in their state,  they can donate time and resources to school education programs, and like the men I’ve talked about, they can speak up, speak out, and most importantly, pass the message on to future generations.  While the few who began to act have now become the many, we hope that someday soon,  there will be many more.


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Funding “Bully”

February 14th, 2013

The original poster.


May 6, 2009
From: alan@waittinstitute.org
To:  cindy@waittinstitute.org
Subject: The Bully Project 

From that first e-mail nearly four years ago introducing me to what became Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen’s documentary “Bully”, I’ve only sobbed twice.  I’ve cried at screenings, cried a time or two when things got frustrating with the process, and cried a bit when my part was finished.  But two times, I had those gut wrenching “tear fests” that  not only shake your body, but shake your soul along with it.  You tend to remember those.

The first time it happened was in La Jolla, California in December of 2009.  It was the night before the year-end board meeting of the Waitt Foundation and the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention.   Along with updates on many of our long standing projects, I was presenting a new one. It was called “The Bully Project”, a film about child-to-child bullying.  I didn’t have much that was solid.  I had a preliminary budget, one of those “shot in the dark” estimates that change during production and post production.  I had Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen’s vision and their passion, but they wouldn’t be in the room.  I needed something brief and powerful, something that would demonstrate the urgent need for this project.

Lee sent it to me that night.   In Lee fashion, he might come right down to the wire, but what he sends is almost always brilliant.  What he sent that night was breathtaking.  It was a three minute clip of footage he’d gathered from the family of Tyler Long, the 17 year old boy from Georgia, who took his own life less than two months before.  Among home made film clips the family supplied of Tyler’s short life, was his father David’s running commentary about the torment Tyler experienced and the heartbreak the family was going through.  It was real, it was raw, and it hit me where it hurt the most, as a parent.  I think that night I moved from a passionate supporter of an important issue to a mother with a mission.

The meeting the next day was early, and I was first of a long line of presenters that day.  I had just wrapped up the yearly summary. Time was running short, but  I had one more thing to present to the group, which that day included our investment advisers, attorney, accountants, management staff, and the members of the board.    I’ve learned that when you present to this group, it’s a good idea to be clear, concise, and have your numbers in order…particularly the numbers.  Most of these people have a business background.  I don’t, I’m a social worker.  A glance at the clock told me I had about 3 minutes left.

I showed the clip.  When it was done, there was a silence, not necessarily a good thing when you’re showing film clips, but I’d had been watching the group intently.  The reactions ranged from actual tears to that kind of uncomfortable shifting in the seat that people do when they’re trying not to cry.  I hadn’t shown them the budget, the time projections of production and post production, or the ideas that were already forming with a social action campaign.  Ted just said to me, “How much do you need?”

The film was the perfect meshing of the right time, right place, right issue as well as the skill and passion of the film makers. But it was more. For me at least that day, in that room, it was watching those people, probably 90%of them parents, reacting as humans caring about their young.

We weren’t the only supporters of the film, we just came in early, as did the brave and forward thinking Sioux City Community School District.  We had partners show up, first a few, then.. the many.  The next year brought The BeCause Foundation, The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and The Fledgling Fund.  After that others joined in, and not just the large foundations.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of  supporters, who knew this film should get finished and get out there to kids, parents, and educators.  The film’s purchase in April of 2011  by the powerful and influential Weinstein Company then took us places we never thought we’d go.  Harvey Weinstein didn’t have to get behind the film, but he did, and as Lee said, everything he promised came true.

The second time I broke down?  It the night in January that Lee and Cynthia accepted the “Stanley Kramer Award” given each year by the Producers Guild of America.  I couldn’t be there that night , but Lee kept me posted.  In a text message, he sent me this:

It brought on the tears, again.   I think that was because I thought that really none of us is alone in this sometimes harsh and uncomfortable world.  We do our best work when we do it together.  It not only took a village to raise this “child”, it took a nation.  Every one who wrote a check, a news story, a tweet, a petition, or a comment in support, and who helped “raise” the film and the project played a role.  As David Long says, “Everything starts with one and builds up”.  To the “ones” who became the many, thank you.

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“The Queen of the May”

January 26th, 2013

Mildred Emma Armstead, our grandmother, 1904-1990. We called her “Momo”

Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming around its guilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”                 

I do not wish them to have power over men; but power over themselves.  Mary Wollenstonecraft

My maternal grandmother’s portrait is in the lobby of the Orpheum theater  in Sioux City, Iowa. It’s a former vaudeville and movie palace built in her heyday, in 1927, lovingly re- imagined and restored by the people of the city, with help from my two brothers.  That’s why her picture hangs there.  I often see people stop and stare at her.  They comment to me often on her curly black haired, unusual, and sultry beauty. She had that particular 1920’s silent movie star or Zelda Fitgerald  style, an angelic look that you figured hid a devilish sense of fun and mischief.  She was fun and she was mischievous, so we named a piano bar after her, in the same building.

She was born in the heartland, and in a time and in circumstances when women were discouraged from looking inside, and prompted to find success in the beauty of their homes, their clothes, their children, and their lifestyles. At those things, she succeeded and succeeded as she was expected to …beautifully.  Her luck with men, as many as she gathered, and there were many, wasn’t as good. Had she been born 50 years later, her life could have looked very different.

She had three husbands, in the days before women had three husbands.  Two of the divorces weren’t her idea, one was, and that decision was a smart one.  Her many married names gave rise to my often told joke that my own many married names made me sound like a law firm.

Were woman to ‘unsex’ themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.” Queen Victoria

She was raised by Victorians, was a child in Edwardian times, but came of age in the 1920’s. All of those times defined her.  Her own name, before she add so many names to it, at birth in 1904 in Winchester, Kansas, was Mildred Emma Armstead,  It was before the first world war that changed so much, before women could vote and in a time when  it was said by her mother that ” a lady is only in the newspaper three times in her life…when she was born, when she was married, and when she died”.  She broke that rule early on and most likely would have continued that if she’d had that chance.  She was the first and only child of Minnie Louise Griffith and Dr. John B. Armstead,  both of English descent  whose families were early Kansas pioneers. Their home is a stately Victorian, that remind me of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home, not 20 miles away.

What she calls “My old home”, Winchester, Kansas.

“Momo” about 1910

Dr. Armstead, who would travel on horseback to tend to patients in Jefferson County, suffered a fall at 37 that led to a brain tumor. He was buried on Mildred’s 10th birthday.  Minnie did remarry, but was widowed twice more.  Grandma, however, told me she had a good childhood and she had a kind and good- hearted mother who ” I’m afraid spoiled me a bit.”  I suspect she spoiled her a lot. She also had an indulgent step father and a widowed grandfather who adored her.  I can see from the old pictures she didn’t want for much, driving a swanky car in her teens, and always dressed exactly the way she was supposed to be dressed in that time.  She was the first woman in her family to graduate from college in 1926 at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. It was there she met my grandfather William Gaston, a handsome, charismatic man with a beautiful singing voice . But before that, she was as they used to say “a belle”, and being that belle was a big deal.

“She tried to weave the strength of her father and the young beauty of her first love, the happy oblivion of her teens and her warm protected childhood into a magic cloak.”  Zelda Fitgerald “Collected Writings”

A pretty child who grew into her beauty early and blessed with obvious charm and style, “Momo” never lacked for attention or for “suitors”, as she called them.

So, that’s where I get my old flirting tendencies…who is this guy?

Looks like the same guy, before she met Grandpa. I’ve found more of these, but the faces on the adoring men change…

I look through her old clippings, some faded to the point of being unreadable, and glean what I can about the details.  Momo herself and my own mother Joan, her only child, have  filled in the rest.  The yellowing scrapbooks she saved gives credence to the years of stories of her little brush of fame in the days when women had just started bobbing their hair, sipping gin, driving cars, speaking out, and delightedly shocking their elders. Ironically, the college she attended didn’t allow sipping gin, or much of anything else.  Dancing and card playing were also verboten.  She must have found the time and place to indulge in a bit of wicked fun, although she may have followed the rules that made her want to break out of that box later. I like to think of her as a big time shocker to her adoring but strict Methodist family.  Beyond that, though, according to her, a young lady’s popularity, style, and charm was the key to success and the eventual goal was to catch the right man.  Gathering titles as a college beauty queen didn’t hurt.  She did that, and apparently did it quite well.   Her favorite story was about spring of 1926, where she was crowned, “Queen of the May” at her school.

1926, Kansas City Times

According to this story, she’d had another beauty queen round the year before, as the “Queen of Les Jeaux Floraux”.  That story calls her “The Queen of Beauty”.   What followed theses queenly titles was the story she told the rest of her life and the story that always made me a little sad. She went to summer school one year at UC Berkeley in San Francisco, and a talent scout for Cecil B. DeMille noticed her. Contact was made to her family from De Mille’s office inquiring about the future of their daughter.  Her straight laced mother and step father apparently found an acting career at that time way too scandalous, and that was the end of that. She returned to Baker.  She may have felt sad then too, but I doubt too sad.  She was on the track she set out for herself, or was set out for her, and my guess is that she was too damned happy to be so wanted to cry much over not becoming the next Gloria Swanson.

In California, on the trip where DeMille’s scout noticed her.  No wonder, she looks so radiant here.

As much as she adored men (there are many pictures of her with men who weren’t my grandfather), she also surrounded herself with like minded women.  She was the quintessential sorority girl, with a dance card.  I actually found one.  It was full.  Her Zeta Tau Alpha girls were a big chunk of her life back then.  When I didn’t pledge in the 70’s, she was dismayed and pronounced that she had serious doubts that I’d find the right type of man to marry.  As hard as I’m sure she studied in Home Economics, her major, she never spoke of the academic side of college too much, at least not to me.  An essay she did on Shelley and Keats is saved in a blue book, and  is marked with a resounding “F”.   She may have cried on that one, as she, like me, cried very easily.

The girls of Zeta Tau Delta, all with identical bobbed hair, Momo sixth from right, standing.

“Ev’ry morning, ev’ry evening

Ain’t we got fun?

Not much money, Oh, but honey

Ain’t we got fun?” Cole Porter

She did graduate, though, and she actually taught for a short time, until her impending marriage made her “unfit” to teach.  As completely crazy as that sounds today, there were laws then in some states that barred married women from teaching.  But marry she did in 1927, to the man who was to become the father of her first and only child, Joan Louise Gaston.  Bill Gaston isn’t hard to describe.  There wasn’t a microphone, a Scotch, or a woman he didn’t relish.  He was smart, he was a story teller and singer,  a great salesman who ended up as an international vice president of BF Goodrich company.  He flirted with my bridesmaids, and he once left my pre- teen brother Norm and I in a park in 1967 in San Francisco, while he ducked into one of his favorite piano bars.  Two children from Iowa had an early education into all things Haight Ashbury, and I’ve always thanked him for that.  We loved our grandfather, but  Bill Gaston was, as my mother said, ” somewhat of a “rounder”.  She’s also used the old term “Roue” to describe her father.  This telegram I found, sent to grandpa on the eve of their wedding gives a hint.

It says, ‘YOUR IMPENDING DOOM IS APPROACHING, NOT TOO LATE TO RECONSIDER, SIGNED, THE COMMITTEE.  Grandpa forged ahead, although the marriage didn’t last.

They moved to St. Louis, where he was on the road, she swept her floors to the point of annoying her neighbor, and my mother thought that before she was born in 1931, “she must have gone mad with boredom”.  It didn’t look like  the glamorous duo  missed any fun in the early days, however, and this picture speaks for itself.

As my brother Ted said, when I compared them to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, “They look more like Bonnie and Clyde :).”

I still like to think of them as Scott and Zelda, only not as drunk and self destructive.  (Well, maybe drunk sometimes… :)) My charming grandfather pronounced to her one day that he would prefer the single life, a shock I don’t think she ever got over.  She’s always pronounced him her true love, and though they didn’t see each other for years, they kept in touch later and then for the rest of their lives.

“It seemed that the only lover she had ever wanted was a lover in a dream.” 
 F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Beautiful and Damned

Momo,  as emotional as she was, was a pragmatist and she soldiered on selling Avon cosmetics until she ran into husband two, who was older and rich… really rich.. and founder of a company that exists today. She was his third wife.  That was a long marriage, but from comments from my parents, a difficult one.  He treated her to all that money could buy, furs, jewels, three homes, a suite at the Waldorf , but he didn’t always treat HER that well, according to reports.  She was banned from any contact with my grandfather, as was my mother, a ban that didn’t lift until husband number two’s death in the early sixties.  Mom tells that grandma “wore herself out trying to please him”, including putting my mother in boarding schools, as he wanted her to be free to travel.  Momo did what she was told, to her later regret.  But she always told me she married him for love, and I believe her.  Being Momo though,she had to add, “You know Cindy, you should marry for love, but try to love where there’s money”.  I think things became important to her early on, perhaps to replace the romantic lover that she could land but not keep completely, perhaps to make up for the early death of her father.  I don’t really know, but she needed a sense of safety, beauty, and comfort and made sure she had them.

Momo and Husband Two in the 1940’s. The cars change, the husbands change, the furs stayed.

Husband Two, after 20 years, also announced he was moving in a new direction, another shock to her system.  By then, she was in her mid 50’s and time was marching on.  I would imagine she was frightened about her place in a society where everyone she knew was part of a couple.  That’s how the world worked, and still does, in some ways, in the world of country clubs.  It was particularly hard for women, she told me later, again advising me about the risks of divorce.

“In those days, we didn’t have a name for domestic violence, we just called it life”  Gloria Steinem, in the upcoming documentary “Private Violence”

She still had the style and the charm and the ability to attract men, but again, not always the right ones.  I understood that about her, as it took me years to get any of that right, and nothing in love is ever completely right.  But she deserved more than what life brought her next.  She met a man who came off as a quiet and proper person, almost “the demeanor of a preacher”, as my mother said, who hid what he was inside,  a dangerous and violent alcoholic.  He pushed her down one night, and injured her back.  I only heard about it years later, when I was in my twenties. It may have happened once, maybe more.  I never knew, she only admitted the one “incident”.  Everyone kept it quiet. Violence like that wasn’t discussed anywhere, particularly in the country club set. It was hidden and as our next film calls it, it was “private” violence.   It has a name now, given by Dr. Susan Weitzman after many years of research on what she calls “upscale violence” when she wrote the book Not to People like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages.  That wasn’t available in the mid 1960’s.  Nothing was.   She did end that marriage, and moved on.  There were a few other men, one old “beau” who lived in Florida, who she visited, who was a good man, but ill and that wasn’t in Momo’s plans.  As smart as she was about so many things, my sense was that she never seemed to be able to feel completely appreciated by the men she knew.

There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books, houses–bound for dust–mortal--” F Scott Fitzgerald, the Beautiful and the Damned”

I can picture her now as my plump, soft, silver haired grandmother with the feisty spirit and the sometimes sharp tongue, but I also like to go back into her history and freeze her in the early years of the past century and  in the 1920’s, before the world taught her that love and life weren’t always easy and that beauty fades and with that, lives change.  I’ve kept her there in the pictures for this story.   I think she would have liked that.

I live in her home now, a home I spent so much time in as a child.  I would visit often and have overnight stays here in the pale yellow guest room I loved.  By then, she lived alone and loved the company, and would spoil all of her grandchildren with her famous southern fried chicken and delicious desserts.  She had beautiful things and took pride in her sparkling clean home full of treasures amassed during her long life.  She could tell you stories of each piece acquired from the Steinway upright piano to the prize winning chandelier she’d bought in New York.  Her jewelry and furs were a treasure trove to a young girl who loved to play dress up.  She would pull those out for special occasions.  When you came to pick her up for those occasions, in her later years, she’d greet you at her door swathed in perfume, perfectly made up, and dressed impeccably. At 13, much to my mother’s horror,  she took me to see “Sonny and Cher” live  in Chicago, introducing their film “Chastity”. My first visit to Saks Fifth Avenue was with her.   She was, I always thought, terribly glamorous.

She loved to travel, she still loved parties, men, her church, shopping, the theater, and music, and she had a genius for investing her money.  My mother tells me she would outdo her financial advisers in picking the right stocks, something I’ve been told about my older brother, Norm.  Perhaps he got that from her.  Her finest investment made her a bit famous in the 80’s and 90’s in the heyday of Gateway computers as “Ted Waitt’s grandmother who loaned him a 15,000 CD”. (The loan became 10,000 from the bank, much to my brother’s dismay).  The media called her “Momo” sometimes,  in the stories.  So did we. Money was still important to her.  When she was assigned as our babysitter, she’d occasionally “disinherit” us, thinking that would be the worst punishment we could get, particularly as obnoxious teenagers.  It didn’t stick.  She’d open her door to any of us the next day, with a big hug and “well, come in, honey”.  She was generous. Her favorite saying when you tried to buy something yourself was “Save your confederate money, dear, the South may rise again”.  I hoped it didn’t.  She loved her home, as many Cancerian girls do.  She was a creature of habit, and when I would visit, in the early evenings, she would give you a bottle of Squirt and bowl of cocktail nuts, pour herself a Scotch and tell me stories, both of the highlights of her life, and the low points, something she wasn’t afraid to share.

She taught me to cook her famous fried chicken, to turn a bit in pictures to make yourself look slimmer, to play “Clair de Lune” on her prized piano, which I can no longer do. She taught me how to clean that gorgeous chandelier, and she also taught me survival. She lived into her late 80’s and braved some health problems before she died one Christmas season.  I made many of the mistakes she made, particularly with men, and knowing that,I always tried to do things to lift her loneliness a little.    Every New Year’s Eve, I would call her, from wherever I was, and wish her Happy New Year.  I’m late this year, but wherever you are, Momo, Happy New Year. I hope your dance card is full, with something or someone you love and I hope it’s a place as beautiful as you.







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The Oscar

January 11th, 2013

For the children and grand children of Patricia Bright Blumberg and dedicated also to my friends Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen.

The Oscar, won in 1939…it’s now stored away in a vault.

All I want is the Oscar”

That was what my husband, Eric Blumberg said after the passing of his beloved mother, Patricia Bright Blumberg, in 2009, at the age of 87.  His brother and sister in law were tasked with dividing up Patricia’s things, and Eric told them that he just wanted the statue. 

He had told me about it, but he wasn’t clear on the story.  He knew that she had entered an essay contest in her teens for film criticism and her prize was… an Oscar. When it showed up one day, I was surprised at how heavy it was.  Just to satisfy my curiosity,  I weighed it.  It was a little over 8 pounds.  According to the Academy, an Oscar weighs 8.5 pounds.  I measured it for height and instead of the 13.5 inches of today’s Oscars, it was 12 inches.  I researched this a bit more and discovered that older Oscars were indeed 12 inches.

I learned the full story later, from Patricia’s grand daughter, Niki Blumberg, “When my grandmother was in high school, in the 1930s, she won an essay contest sponsored by the MPAA.  Her essay focused on mob violence in movies and its negative impact on society. As the first-place winner, she was awarded a prop Oscar from the original 1937 version of A Star is Born.  My grandmother told me that she would often use it as a doorstop at parties.”

I did some more digging and found the image below.  There they were, and it seems, I had one of those little golden boys in my hands.

Eric’s later research revealed that is was indeed made by the same company who made the Oscars you see handed out every year.

The actual “Oscar” scene with Janet Gaynor in the original 1937 “Star is Born”

So, what about the woman who had the golden boy for so many years, I wondered?  She wasn’t famous as we might know it, though she was known.  She’s still on the IMDB, for various stints on Broadway, or on television from the late 1940’s through the 70’s, but there’s not much else out there on her. You have to dig.   She was however, a skilled, polished, and hard working professional, who loved what she did, from what I hear and what I  read.  I am new to the family, and have heard only pieces of her story.  I watched a clip of her once on the iconic 50’s series “Car 54, Where Are You?”. I also found a clip of Patricia, Kaye Ballard, and Bette Davis in 1966 on “To Tell The Truth”.  She and Ballard, a friend, obviously were the impostors, a skill she had been honing for years, and Bette thought she was dead on.   That’s most of what I knew.   A box of press clippings, head shots, playbills, and reviews told me more.

“Early days- an entertainer”

She was born Pearl Breit in 1922, on the Lower East Side of New York City, the oldest child and only daughter of Samuel and Lillian Breit.  Samuel, born Simon Bright in London, and Lillian Mandelwitz Breit, ran a stationery store on Whitehall Street.   Her son Eric was never told that her name was Pearl, and he thought her birth happened in 1925.  “Mom gave herself three years”, he says, and a new name as well, or at least her father’s original name.   Her interest in performing apparently took hold early in her life.  In her sophomore year at Hunter College, she was hired for her first acting job on radio. An audition for the John Golden Awards, which she won, while still in college, had her satirizing the judges and in her words, “they seemed to enjoy it”.

Patricia, left, entertaining World War Two troops, early 40’s.

Even as a budding performer with a good head start, it seems that first and foremost, she was a fan of all things theatrical.  Grand daughter  Niki, who works for a theater group in Los Angeles, tells me of Pat at 17 in 1939, “I often retell her grand stories of life backstage and onstage.  One of my favorites is the one where my grandmother went to see The Philadelphia Story, on Broadway, for the eighth time.   She was such a huge fan of Katherine Hepburn, that she took every chance she had to watch her play Tracy Lord from the $5 cheap seats at the Schubert theatre.  On the eighth night, she had gotten to go backstage to meet Ms. Hepburn, herself.   Shaking with nerves, in the wings, she waited to meet her acting idol.  After what seemed like ages, she finally heard Katherine’s voice, booming from backstage like a lioness who has just escaped her cage screaming, “God damn it!  Where are my goddamn shoes!”I don’t remember what my grandmother spoke to Katherine Hepburn about, once they got to meeting.  The reason I don’t remember, is probably because my grandmother has the best Katherine Hepburn impression you’ve ever heard and it took me a full ten minutes to get over how brilliant it was.”

Early supper club days, at 22, already noted for her Hepburn.

Her specialty was indeed “mimicry”, as Walter Winchell put it in a column from 1946. In the same year,  Earl Wilson called her “one of bright new acts of Cafe Society Uptown“.  By then, she had become  Patricia Bright, and had worked her way into a steady job at the swank St. Regis, by what Robert Dana called “her charm, beauty, wit, and talent“.  She had re-invented herself into what Dana called “a typical post deb in appearance”, but with a twist.  As she put it in a New York Post feature story in 1944 when she was just 22, “ I do biting satire, and expect to be found dead with four daggers in my back any day now”.  She was, in short, a funny lady with some distinctive voices.  Katherine Hepburn, according to Dana, seemed to be one of her best.  She studied her well at the Schubert, it would seem.

Earl Wilson column, 1946

Steady job, 1946, she did the cut and paste herself here.

“As herself”-late forties and fifties

When Patricia’s box of memories arrived at our door, they were carefully separated..Head shots, playbills, press clippings, television reviews, voice over…and there were others, marked for Eric, by her, of his press clippings from his radio days.  But there was more, not as carefully sorted but bulging full of…her family.  At 22, she did what young ladies did in those days, she married a young William Morris talent agent named Stephen Blumberg, the son of a Russian immigrant mother and a father who was an executive at Brooks Costumes.  Stephen later followed his father in the business.

Steven Blumberg, my late father in law.

At 25, she became the mother of Robert Blumberg, born in 1947, Eric Blumberg, 1952, and daughter Amy, born in 1957.  She didn’t stop working.   The late 4o’s brought some obscure early TV work in shows like “Draw Me a Laugh” and “The Borden Show”, prior to her first Broadway show, “Tickets Please”, which brought Ed Sullivan,Colgate Comedy Hour, Jack Paar, and the Red Buttons show… appearances as “herself”.

First time on the Great White Way, 1950 at 28

As “Herself” with daughter Amy

“Herself” again, late 50’s, now mother of three.

My favorite. “Herself” in photograph, early 50’s to comfort little Eric.

“I’m not really a single girl, I just play one on TV”

She still played the Versailles, the Cotillion Room, the Maisonette, and Bon Soir.  With television, clubs,and Broadway, and three kids, I think she earned the title “working actress”.  In those days, juggling both was rare, but juggle she did, and most likely with aplomb.  She had help, she wasn’t a super woman. Eric remembers housekeepers.  He also remembered her cooking dinner and then leaving for work.

There was a brief stint in Hollywood, on a short lived series called “It’s Always Jan” with Janis Paige.  From what I can tell, there’s Janis Paige, a Marilyn Monroe clone, and Patricia, who undoubtedly played the wisecracking friend. I would guess that became more and more common as she grew older.  She was lovely, but like Lucille Ball, you heard the funny before you saw the looks.   They were cast as “single girls”, but Patricia had her two children with her in a rented house.  Eric remembers the stories of those studio days, and rubbing up against the greats, as she did though she never became a movie actress.  She was still a fan, still loved the stars, and according to her family, never missed an Oscar broadcast, and watched it yearly, champagne and all.   I find it comforting that she still had something some of those greats never had, that golden thing,  even if it wasn’t for the usual things, even if it wasn’t made for her.  It was still heavy and solid and must have been a great conversation starter for new guests.

TV guide, 1955

The show didn’t last longer than a season, and they were back in New York, her third child to follow.  The Oscar may have gone with her, but returned to it’s place on the family mantle.  Eric confirms the “Oscar” as doorstop story.  She soldiered on. Patricia returned to Broadway in 1961 in James Thurber’s “A Thurber Carnival”, directed by Burgess Meredith, with Thurber playing himself.  I wish I had heard that story from her.  Her playbills show her still headlining at the Cotillion Room at the Pierre, but she also had a stint on what Leonard Maltin calls “one of the funniest TV shows of all time”.   I was a bit young to remember the iconic early 1960’s  series “Car 54, Where Are You?” headlined by Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis and Paul Reed.  My husband, a fan, asked me to watch a few episodes one night, particularly one he calls “some of the best comedy ever done on TV”, called “I Hate Captain Block”.  Almost vaudevillian, it was hilarious.  Patricia, who had a few episodes from  ’62-’63 was a blip on the screen, playing Captain Block’s wife Claire, but she has a presence, even in that bit.

The Ghost and the Voice

I notice as she moves into her fifties, she’s now billed as Pat Bright. In 1972-73, she showed up on “The Edge of Night”, as “Edith Berman”, the dead wife of one of the leading characters.  Eric said, “She played a ghost”.

Edge of Night cast photo, Pat in plaid, the ghost.

She wasn’t a disembodied voice, but the distinctive voice ( and voices) she had now came in handy.  For years, she supplemented the mercurial business of show business with one of  the tools that got her started. There is a wonderful piece in the  December 13,1982 New York magazine she kept called the “Hidden Persuaders”, the story of the nameless, faceless voice-over talents we hear every day.  It featured her, and I loved her comments about the perks of having this specific talent, particularly in fighting the “age curse” faced by so many in her business, particularly women. By then she’d been doing “voice over” for 24 years, and could still do “13 year olds”.  “Voice work affords longevity that on- camera work doesn’t”, she said.  “A model’s career peaks in eight years, we, however, can go on as long as our voice lasts and a wheelchair can get us there.  And, darling, your voice is the last thing to go.”  Take that, darling.  She also recalls a story when she left a recording studio furious about a bad audition.  In the days of pay phones, she “picked up the receiver, deposited a dime, intending to call her agent and chew him out, and was startled to hear her own voice, telling her to deposit more money.  Bright had done the recording for the phone company. The 60 year old Patricia also told the interviewer “Ever wonder why so many gorgeous models sound alike?  Often it’s my voice.”

The voice…December 13, 1982, New York Magazine

The fan and the diva

Patricia’s children and grand children relish her stories of the more well known members of her business. I wish I’d heard them too, so I rely on the memories her descendants have provided.  Eric just e-mailed me this story, ”

Here’s one –Like any sensible woman of her day, my mother was enamored by Paul Newman.  When she finally got her chance to meet him, he came up to her to greet her and announced (to this day, no one knows why he felt it necessary):  Hello, I’m Paul Newman.  All my starstruck mother could do when gazing into his light, blue eyes was say: Goddamn right you are.  This caused him to crack up and give her an unforgettable hug, and from then on you knew they would be buds.  Although I must admit, I don’t believe they ever met again.

Oh, Patricia, when I meet the famous, as I occasionally get to do, can I steal that from you? The stories from the descendants tell me that Pat now moves into the “grande dame” phase of her life.  Eric has used the word “diva”, and I think, “Damn, I missed that”.  She saved a few snippets…

Bette Davis Part One- I have no idea what year this would have been.

Bette Davis Part Two…Looks like 1959…

When I watched the clip of the two, Bette kept patting Patricia’s arm… she must have liked her or at least her imitation of her.  Here’s my favorite of the snippets:


I hope she didn’t either..

“Wherever she ways, she was always working her way home”

As Eric stated above, Pat was first and foremost, a wife and mother.  I hope she could compartmentalize the pieces of her life.  It couldn’t have been easy.  She held the family together as her husband Stephen’s health declined.  He died at 59 from a congenital heart condition.  She never remarried.  I get the sense of someone pretty joyful, until the last rough days of her illness and death.  She held onto her home at the elegant landmark Apthorp until the end, as she held onto her family, including the two who followed her into the business, Eric and Niki.  She also held onto the pieces, some crumbling now, of her fascinating life.

In the 1980’s, with Eric, then in radio, and baby grand daughter Niki, now in her twenties and in theater in Los Angeles.

And the Oscar?  Strangely, I might have attended the Oscars this year, but that was not to be.  Instead, I’m getting her prop “Golden Boy” out of its vault for the night, and will watch it like everyone else, and like her,  will have champagne in hand.  And I’ll celebrate, along with her son, and with her spirit,  I hope, what a winner she was.


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The Radio Talk Show Host

January 2nd, 2013

Talk radio hosts and producers seek to saw off specific demographic chunks an deliver them to advertisers. This means whipping up partisanship, anger, whatever it takes to have this demographic come back for more. In a sense, talkers aggravate versus aggragate interests.And then there is the issue of centrists and moderates on talk radio and cable shows….  Exactly how many of them do you see on many of these shows?” Joe Gandelman, The Moderate Voice

It was the voice. That deep, strong, confident, almost mesmerizing instrument he used so well.  That’s how he courted me in 2009.  It worked.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it but it was the first time I’d heard him in that way.  It changed a bit, it softened, but without losing it’s power.

I’d known Eric for nine years.  My ex husband and I and Eric and his late wife, Karen spent a lot of time together from  1999 to 2004, when they improbably landed in Iowa, where he’d taken a job as a news director after years in the radio business in Austin, Texas .  When Karen became terminally ill, we traveled to Austin, where they had returned,  to see our dear friends, to give moral support to Eric and Karen’s daughters, and to say goodbye to her.  It was 2006, and I remember leaving their house in tears as I couldn’t imagine a world without my friend Karen.

Over the next years, we heard from Karen’s daughters, but from Eric, not a word.  We both hoped he was doing well.  In 2009, the “we” became a “me”.  When you clear out a relationship, you find yourselves clearing out closets and drawers as well.  One day, I ran across a piece Eric had written about my late father and his sudden passing.  It was an unusually sensitive piece, reminding me that the rather moody and taciturn man did have a big heart and a keen intuition.  Eric’s intimidating brilliance and his native New York kind of brash didn’t always work for people, both on the air and off, here in the friendly Mid West, but he never scared me.  I could see through him.

I e-mailed him.  He hates e- mail.  Three days later, one line…”give me your number, I’ll get in touch.”  He got in touch.  He loved the phone, that’s how he communicated, that’s how he made his living for so many years.  Our conversations, in the beginning, took the tone of an interview.  Eric specialized in interviews.  He’d spent on air time with everyone from Jimmy Carter to Robert McNamara.  No one intimidated him.  Not only did he know what he was doing, but he grew up in Manhattan in a show business family.  If he was interviewing me, it worked.  We married in 2011.

Eric was born in Manhattan in 1952, the son of Stephen Blumberg, who worked in the costume business, and Patricia Bright, an actress and comedienne.  He grew up listening to what he considered among the best radio talk show hosts. Barry Gray of WMCA,  and  Barry Farber of WOR were particularly favorites.  “They were conversationalists, it’s not talk, it’s conversation,” he says about them.  In those days radio talk show hosts weren’t the overwhelmingly partisan voices that held up the views of one side or another to an adoring choir.  They had conversations about issues with just about everyone.

In 1980, he moved to Austin on a fellowship to graduate school in Journalism, and became a teaching assistant.  When he was more than midway through, he was offered his first job as a city reporter for KLBJ.  It was then he decided he wanted to do what the “Barrys” in New York did….have a conversation, on air, and with just about everyone, like them.


Plugged in....his favorite place to be then.

He stayed on the air for many years, developing a solid following and winning multiple awards and being known for his knowledge, his tenacious questions, and thorough research. He was particularly known for his strong interviews with a variety of people and a variety of topics.   He ran for city council, confounding both conservatives and progressives with his takes on many issues.

He couldn’t be pigeonholed, and in those last days, things had started to change.  You did better on one side or the other.  The business began to change along with the increasingly partisan audiences, and the Rush Limbaugh type was gaining listeners and gaining ground.  Eric had strong opinions,  but they were his own.  There didn’t seem to be a place for his kind of talk.  He headed out and headed north to work as a news director in Sioux City.  He told me once that driving up to Sioux City, he knew “his career (as he’d experienced it), was over.”   He spent nearly 5 years working for a very conservative station, first as news director, then as a talk show host.

It was 2003, a tricky time to be on the air, particularly when you felt the upcoming war in Iraq was a profoundly bad idea.  He was summarily fired the day the war broke out, one of hundreds of journalists across the country that didn’t survive the growing groundswell of excitement over “shock and awe”.  He never held a microphone again and didn’t look back.

Eric, having suffered depressions in his life, put his energy into advocating for the mentally ill, and now teaches.  Strangely, he’s now married into a family that owns multiple radio stations, including talk radio, but those stations still follow the partisan model.   He still has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to let anyone know where he stands.   The pre dinner hour in our house, when I’m cooking and he’s watching Chris Matthews, or flipping to FOX news for “the other take”, is essentially the “Eric Blumberg” show.  His new rant is a common one.  Climate in DC is abysmal and he doesn’t hold out much hope in this “coin operated”* political landscape.  His rant is smart, it’s hilarious and I hear more of him than what’s coming out of the kitchen tube, which is fine with me.  But… it’s an audience of one, not thousands.

*Ted Waitt comment on politics these fine days.

And he married into a family of 1 percenters....

So, the voice.  The voice that captivated listeners for 20 years, and the voice that won the heart of this writer is needed right now, I tell him.  He’s starting to write again, starting to find the voice, and threatening some interesting new projects.  I hope so.  I’m very lucky to hear that voice, and I hope that someday others can too. It’s time.

So, on his birthday, today,  leave a comment and tell him it’s time…

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Over the Rainbow

December 17th, 2012



Double rainbow courtesy of topnews.in

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane

When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your windowpane

To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain

Somewhere, over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullabye.

Somewhere, over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere, over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, then oh, why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why can’t I?”  Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, 1939

When the end of life comes to people we love, we may question the “why?”   Trying to get to the “why” helps us wrap our arms and our minds, if not our hearts, around life’s greatest mystery. In some cases, we may never completely know the “why” or at least the”why now?”.

We can slowly put pieces together to arrive at something our minds can understand on a rational level.  But until we get to that place, when the facts aren’t solid, when the emotions are raw and bleeding, and when we hurt, and hurt badly, we might reach deep, and ask a universal question, “Where do we go when we die?”

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A Perfectly Imperfect 60 Year Love

December 15th, 2012


“Love isn’t finding a perfect person.  It’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly”. Sam Keen

Mom and Dad wedding day, 1953

My parents met in Sioux City, Iowa in about 1943.  They were 12 and it was a junior high school dance.  Joan Gaston Smith was new in town and Norm Waitt remembered her as a beautiful girl with her “nose in the air”.  He noticed her right away, and kept noticing for the next 60 years.  They came from different places and different backgrounds.  She was born in St. Louis in 1931, the daughter of an executive and a former college beauty queen.  She and her mother moved here when my grandmother married her wealthy second husband, whose family had founded a company called American Popcorn Company, sometimes known as “Jolly Time”.  My father was a 5th generation Iowan, from a family of cattlemen.  They were an ‘old’ family, respected in their field, but in the 40’s, lived more modestly than my mother’s family.  I used to  call them “the cattleman” and the “debutante”. But that’s too simple.  They were much more.  And as the years went on, they seemed more alike than different.  I think that’s what the passage of time and the “being together” does to a couple.

They always kept in touch, as she went off to boarding schools and college at Northwestern University, and he went to college for a year in Montana and then into the Air Force during the Korean War.  The letters continued.  She said he would sign his letters, “your friend, Norm”.  Both were charismatic and attractive and they dated others, but something always pulled them back together.

Lovely mom...late 40's

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There’s no place like home

November 18th, 2012

The Waitts....lots of them, 1925



I live in Sioux City, Iowa.  It’s a river city of about 100,000 souls, if you count the neighbors.  It doesn’t grow too much.  I don’t think it’s supposed to.  It’s heritage is incredibly rich, both in the histories of the Native Americans who were here before, and the settlers who landed here from elsewhere.  We’re not Mayberry, we’re just a mix of new and old, growing more diverse and sometimes more progressive, and sometimes stubbornly clinging to old ways.  To me, it’s home. Read the rest of this entry »

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October 24th, 2012



To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time”.- Clara Ortega

There were four of us, two boys, two girls…and always a dog

The 60’s. Two boys, two girls, one dog… again.

Brothers and sisters.  For most of us, they are the longest relationship we’ll ever have in life.  They show up early, before our spouses or partners, and way before our children, and they stay late, longer than our parents.  We share the same genes, but rarely the same outward personality or inner self, but between siblings are secret codes, old jokes, old pains, and memories that span generations.  When I started wandering through old pictures, I thought..besides my parents, who have I been connected to since the 1950’s?  The little group above, that’s who.  Researching it, I found that siblings have an enormous impact on how we live, how we love, and the choices we make. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Color Purple

October 16th, 2012

The color purple stands now for both domestic violence awareness and bullying and October is the month.

If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms,and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”– Rep. Mark Green

“Bullying is killing our kids. Being different is killing our kids and the kids who are bullying are dying inside. We have to save our kids whether they are bullied or they are bullying. They are all in pain.”  Cat Cora

Preventing violence is the most crucial work I will ever do in this lifetime.  Herman Wouk said once, “Either war is finished, or we are”.  I believe him.  We need to stop the wars we wage against each other every day, in the home, at work, and in school. Read the rest of this entry »

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Legalizing Love

September 20th, 2012


I love this sign.

“My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow.”  Washington state Sen. Ed Murray (D), Feb. 13, 2012 as marriage was legalized.

“This is an earthquake issue. This will change our state forever. Because the immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through, is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural, and perhaps they should try it.” — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), March 20, 2004  (Huh?)

I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of.” Clint Eastwood

Those who say my home state of Iowa is a swing state know what they’re talking about.  Our opinions are as varied as our weather.  On the one hand, Iowa should be proud to be one of the handful of states (8 have legalized, but with legislation pending in 2 of those) that legalized same sex marriage in April of 2009.  Iowa is home to Chuck and Jason Swaggerty Morgan, two fine men I know, who are raising beautiful children, and who were one of the six couples who challenged the Iowa Supreme Court.

Conversely, Iowa is home also to the leader of what is called “The Family Leader’, a group who successfully ousted three of those brave judges, and are now threatening a fourth as of today. The three ousted judges deservedly received the John F. Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” awards  just this year.

This isn’t a political blog and it isn’t a religious blog.  I’m tackling this subject today because the right of same sex couples to marry in this country really shouldn’t be about either of those issues, it should be about the subject of this blog-love.  Period.    It may be about religion or politics for them, but there are gay rights supporters on both sides of the aisle and supporters as well as opponents within organized religions.   Could we not stop all the ‘fussing and fighting” and re frame the case, take it beyond the courts and the elections and look at it from a human standpoint?  Couldn’t this just be simply about love?

It’s not about love, not yet.  Sadly, as a nation, and as a planet, we aren’t there yet.   But I am encouraged and here are a few reasons why.

WE ARE SLOWLY, VERY SLOWLY STARTING TO GET HOW DANGEROUS DISCRIMINATION CAN BE. Social scientists, human behavior experts, and more and more policy makers are beginning to understand the process by which we can easily dehumanize others and what that can lead to.  One of the most amazing things I’ve seen in 20 years of violence prevention work is what they call “the pyramid of violence”.  The pyramid is inverted and starts with the more common acts of violence, which is words. Violence doesn’t start with the physical generally.   As my friend and colleague Kit Gruelle says, “Violence is just a punctuation mark”.  It starts with thoughts, attitudes and words.   Here’s how that works.  A group, usually in the majority, can begin to stereotype and dehumanize another group simply by disapproving words.  Even something as innocuous as “hate the sin and love the sinner” can be dangerous, as you’ve labeled someone with “sin”.  Then comes the separation and isolation of the smaller group from the larger.  They are ‘sinners” and therefore we don’t approve, we don’t understand, and we don’t love.  We begin to hate, and what we hate doesn’t deserve the same rights.  We isolate them physically, psychologically, and spiritually until this becomes “normal” and acceptable to do.  It can then escalate to acts of bullying,violence, assault, “hazing”, rape, and even murder.  That’s how batterers do it.  If the target is dehumanized, it becomes ok to separate them, ok to deny them rights, ok to attack them.  Hitler didn’t wake up one day and lock up all the Jews.  He slowly and surely over many years moved up the pyramid of violence to his final solution.  In short, as a culture, I think this has been what we’ve done to not only women and minorities but also to gays and lesbians, and mercifully, more policy makers are making the connection.  As always, the opposition must push back and they push back hard, but the connection has been made and hopefully that will lead us to more enlightened and LOVING policies, attitudes, and behaviors.

-“THE TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION”.  My own community had to be pulled kicking and screaming into the 21st century, as it took them years to simply add the term”sexual orientation” to our human rights laws.  But it happened.  In 2004, there were no states that had legalized same sex marriage.  In eight years, we’ve added 8 states, and several more have legislation pending.  It’s not enough, and again, the push back is swift and sometimes violent, but it’s beginning.  We’ve made measurable change. My friend and colleague, anti violence activist Jackson Katz told me years ago that “that train has already left the station”.  It’s moving, slowly, but it’s moving.

THE ATTITUDES ARE CHANGING.  In 1996, only 25% of Americans approved of full marriage equality.  Today, from 51-53% support it.  That’s a big leap in 15 years.

THERE ARE MOVEMENTS THAT WENT BEFORE THAT GIVE HOPE.   Let’s face it, as daunting as the “push back” can be, and in these days, it’s daunting, there is a movement, and that’s always the start.  If I’d been born in 1896, not 1956, I would have had to wait to vote.  My own great grandmother, who I knew, couldn’t vote until she was 44 years old.  As crazy as that sounds, this was within the 20th century.  My friend who lives in San Diego, and is white, could not have married her husband, who isn’t, 50 years ago.  My husband is Jewish.  He was born in 1952 in New York.  Had he and I been born 30 years before, in Germany, where some of his relatives came from, our marriage  would have been illegal.   Look at old film clips of groups of whites taunting  African American school children.  This was in my lifetime.  When I watch those, I feel shame and horror.  I absolutely believe, that even 25 years from now, we will look back on this time with deep regret that many of us failed to respect those who live their lives as they were born to do.  Ranting loudly against another’s rights may work for a while, but history will tell this story and things will look different from that perspective.  Let’s be proud of supporting human rights and open ourselves to change.  This isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution, or so I hope.

THE ANTI BULLYING MOVEMENT WILL HELP.  One of the most frustrating things for me over the years, as an anti violence activist and philanthropist, is the completely insane opposition to anti bullying legislation for our children from those who feel that they push a “gay agenda”. HUH?  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who tried to pass anti bullying legislation while he was Governor of Iowa, met constant opposition simply due to the “gay agenda” nonsense.  I always wanted to say to these people, “so it’s ok to bully gay kids”?  Are you kidding.  They weren’t.  Some of these same adults who are horrified by school bullying overall, see nothing about dehumanizing gay children and adults, and wonder why hate groups exist, and gay kids are killing themselves.   It’s insane.  But there is hope.  By simply humanizing the children so brutally  tormented in his documentary “Bully”, Lee Hirsch helped change the conversation and perhaps led us to a tipping point as a nation.  But, we have to make the connection that by making gay marriage and gay rights abhorrent, we feed into a collective bullying that no longer should be acceptable.  If we want our children treated well, let’s set an example…with love.

-OUR KIDS WILL STRAIGHTEN THIS OUT.  By the numbers, again, I have hope.  The same survey that named 51-53% of Americans now supported marriage equality, told us that fully 69% of those under 30 supported it.  I’ve been taught by those who know about such things, that when social norm change approaches 80% of a population, you are there.  Our kids will get us there, and teach us a lesson in life, in harmony, in human rights, and yes, even in love.





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The List

September 2nd, 2012

Does it work to wish on a star?

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you…”  Disney’s Pinocchio 1940

The beloved song above is rated seventh among the American Film Institute’s top 100 songs of all time.  It’s been covered by everyone from Julie Andrews to Gene Simmons (yes, Gene Simmons).   It’s a beautiful tune, but I think it’s the lyrics that appeal to us.  Who doesn’t want a badly needed wish to come true simply by…wishing it?   This isn’t a new concept, but popular culture has caught on to the ancient wisdom that suggests that what we think and say matters, and as the new age crew would say, “We are co-creators with the universe”.  Remember the multi- million selling book and DVD “The Secret” that came out in 2007?  The timing was right, and the message was powerful.

However, and this is a great big however here, there are a few things to consider when wishing for anything, including love, and I think, especially love.  It’s not as simple as, “if I just hold the thought and wish hard enough, it will show up in 30 days at my front door”.  You have to work with it.  Positive thoughts and intentions must be combined with some powerful inner work, attitudes, and behaviors.  An example here.  Most likely if we quit our jobs, settle down on the couch with a big box of Twinkies and the remote, the million dollars we’re hoping for might elude us.  So, think positively, of course, but do the work it takes to move your wish along and make yourself ready.

I’ve put together my own list that you might want to consider before embarking on manifesting a new love.  See if these make sense to you…

1) It CAN work. Any wish must begin with at least some faith and hope that thoughts do help move things along, so I’ll share a few tidbits from real stories that I’ve gathered, including my own improbable list and how it worked. Story one- In 2009, I ended a long term relationship, and after some time, I decided to try out this “manifesting” thing.  I actually made a list, including qualities I wanted in mate, and some I didn’t want.  I was ready, I felt I’d done the work on myself and I was in a good place, but a bit of a scary place, as I was a 52 year old woman in a small city, and I didn’t think my new love would be close by.  I joked that I’d have to import someone from another place, and that’s exactly how it ended up.  I made my list at the end of June, and put it on my kitchen window sill.  I think there were 21 things on the list and he was 20 of them.  In August, we connected and he’s now my husband, imported and delivered from New York, via Austin, Texas. For our back story, see my post called “The Poem”.  http://cindywaitt.com/the-poem-2/

Story two-A young woman from South Dakota, in her thirties, a friend and colleague.  In February of 2007, the two of us were walking on a beach in La Jolla, talking about love and relationships.  She was ready for a man who would treat her better than she’d been treated in the past, and I told her that I’d heard that making a list might help, or at least organize her thoughts around what she wanted and needed.  She made it verbally right there….tall, dark hair, dark eyes, responsible, likes children and be willing to love hers, caring, hard working, and finally, someone who would treat her like a princess.  He showed up one month later, and they are still together and yes, he was the list.

Story three-A 50 something woman from Omaha said two things to me at different times that actually happened.  One was that she wanted to fall in love once before she got too old, and the other was that after years of business types, she wanted an artist.  It took some years, but she did fall in love in 2009, with…an artist.

Story four-A model who lives in Los Angeles, had experienced some fairly bizarre relationships and she was about to build a website to start talking about relationships in the hopes that, as she said, “if you build it, he will come”.  He did, and their love story is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

2) Be ready.  This is huge.  I had hoped for the right partner for years, but I didn’t like myself enough for many of those years to draw anyone close to what I needed.  I had to spend some time, just with me, and do a ton of work on just me, before I was ready to become some one’s partner.  I’m thoroughly convinced that without that work, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and he wouldn’t be where I am either.  You draw healthier people when you’re healthy yourself.

3) Be realistic.  Think about someone who would be right for you, as you are.  I was.  I suppose as a fiftysomething woman from Iowa, I could have started hoping that George Clooney would swing by Sioux City one day and magically show up at my house instead of the plumber I called, but George Clooney is a) not going to Iowa for any reason, b) not going to date me anyway, and c) wouldn’t be anything close to what would work for me.  http://cindywaitt.com/never-date-anyone-prettier-than-you-are-or-why-we-shouldnt-date-don-draper-but-why-we-would-anyway/  Not picking on George here….the girl from story four actually knows him and he’s a good guy.  He might have dated someone like her, but for her, I’m glad she connected with the man she’s with.  They are picture perfect together.

4) Try not to step one anyone else’s toes in your process.  Life is messy, and love is messier, so it is possible you might still have unfinished business.  In a perfect world, your “list” would be blessedly and totally single, but messy life can bring us someone with complications.  I call that “An inconvenient love”.  Hope for someone not encumbered, it’s better.

5)Your list should include not only what you want, but what you don’t want.  A couple of months ago, I wrote, “Dating is a process of elimination”.  So, write down what no longer works for you.   I covered the big “this isn’t working for me anymore”, but a full list might have included, for me, things like “no active alcoholics who after a successful business career ended up living under a bridge”, or “No Englishmen who like rugby better than me and have a pesky estranged Italian wife who keeps coming back”.  Unhealthy ME kept drawing very, very unhealthy HE’s.  And these were some of the better ones.  Eliminate. http://cindywaitt.com/dating-is-a-process-of-elimination/

6) Put on your big girl pants.   The list I made in my 50’s was vastly different than a list I would have made 25 years ago.  I got out of the shallow waters and went deep.  It’s okay to want someone attractive or successful, but be careful what you wish for. If  your list starts looking like “tall, dark,handsome, cool car, rich, great body…”, you may get it, but that may be all you get.  It’s not going to work if you marry someone just because he looked a little bit like Warren Beatty, like I did in the 80’s.  Yes, he looked like Warren at the time, but I left out some key things I wanted, like “being a grown up”.  There’s a great episode of “Thirtysomething” where the character Ellen and her mother, who is divorcing her father, talk about what to hope for in a spouse.  Mother says “There are two types of men, Ellen.  One type is handsome, charming, drives a beautiful car, dresses well, is a great dancer, and the other type is more quiet, not as charming, who, at a party, looks like he might rather be home reading a good book.  The second is the type you want to marry.”  Ellen says, “How do you know this, Mama?”.  Mother replies, “I married a great dancer”.

7)Making it all about money will end up being…all about money.  There is nothing wrong with mega rich people, I know a couple of them and love them like brothers. In fact, in my case, they are my brothers.  It’s a tough economy, and who hasn’t thought about living on a gorgeous estate and being able to buy whatever you want, whenever you want.  Manifesting success for yourself is great, but don’t let it dominate your list.  My sister and I have the interesting privilege to go from our normal lives, normal homes and normal cars to occasionally inhabiting the world of billionaires.  It’s a stunning change for us when we do that a few times a year.  But, as lovely as their homes and lives are sometimes, I’ve stayed on estates…the kind where the number of bathrooms are in the double digits.  I’ve asked myself if I was a lot happier living there than my own little ranch house.  The answer was, “this is fun, but I can be just as happy in my 1,300 square feet”.  So, remember, if you make your wish list all about money, you might find yourself someday in your 12,000 square foot estate writing another list.

8)Remember, that the list is just yours, and therefore unique, as are you.

Happy Wishing, and tell me your own stories...



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Soul Mates

August 3rd, 2012

 I HAVE been here before,
              But when or how I cannot tell:
          I know the grass beyond the door,
              The sweet keen smell,
    The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

          You have been mine before,—
              How long ago I may not know:
          But just when at that swallow’s soar
              Your neck turned so,
    Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

          Has this been thus before?
              And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
          Still with our lives our love restore
              In death’s despite,
    And day and night yield one delight once more?   Daniel Gabriel Rossetti 1854

We hear much about “soul mates”.  But, what are they?  Literature and film would have it that the soul mate is one person, the only “love of your life”, your true other half.

Some are skeptical about all this.  Naomi Cohn, author of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List” says,  “There is no such thing as a soulmate…and who would want there to be? I don’t want half of a shared soul. I want my own damn soul.”  Well, it’s a point of view.  But…as we aren’t alone here on this pretty planet, some of us like company….the right company.  So, exactly what are soul mates,  do they exist, and if they do, are we with them right now? Chances are, yes, you are.

The concept of soul mates is discussed historically and in some religions. Plato talked about them, the Hindu religion refers to them, the word in Yiddish “bashert” means destiny, Theosophy digs into it, and since the 60’s it’s landed soundly as part of our culture, and not always correctly, according to some things I’ve read.   The mainstream idea is that, if we are lucky, we will meet and mate with that “one” soul, and settle into “happily after after” world.  It’s one definition.  But, from what I’ve gathered over the years, I’ve surmised that there are different types of soul mates.

Here are just three….


As were these two, I also think….

Here’s a description of  how this came about in Eastern tradition from the Maharani Rutan,  “According to the ancient scripture of the Gita it was a dialog between God, Krishna. and Rama . God gave Krishna a Divine vision to save mankind and learn peace and love, and Rama was his brother.  This is why Krishna is known as a God of Love because he brings love to many. During the epic dialogs, Krishna and Rama used to argue philosophically a lot so God said to Krishna be on earth and be your brothers soul mate.  And when Krishna asked what is a soul mate.  God said, “Soul mate will be someone that is placed on earth to learn and teach from.”

The broad definition coming from this tradition is that a soul mate can be anyone with which we have a close bond, and who help us recognize important lessons about life, love, and about OUR SELVES.  Some are meant to be life long bonds, some come together to experience something that will move their soul forward.  We see people drifting apart, and we see this as a “failed relationship”.  Not always so!   Have you ever had a relationship that didn’t work, was painful, and had to end?  When the smoke clears, and it usually does clear, and if we’re self aware, we’ll ask ourselves what lessons that person had for us.  Margaret Mead famously said, “I’ve had three successful marriages”.  Each was there for her at a specific time and place, and when she needed that lesson.   I’ve always thought our families of origin, as well as romantic partners, were great teachers for us.  They’re our first relationships, our first experience of love, and they are usually life long.  Family conflict, while painful as hell, is a great teacher.  How we deal with that is up to us, but in the end, they offer us a path to learn, let go, and most importantly teach us to take the lesson, move on, let go, and forgive!


Yoko might have been John’s other half, but Paul was there for the mission.

Are you in a business partnership right now?  Particularly close to a co-worker or project partner?  Do the two (or three) of you feed off each other’s energy and help you move an idea forward? Do you instinctively know what part you bring to the team, and even though there are bumps and grinds and conflicts along the way, does the finished product feel right?  When it does feel right, it feels like a world changer, and sometimes it IS.  Lennon/McCartney?

I’ll talk about my philanthropic work a bit.  I have been fortunate to have run into some amazing mission mates.  One was a woman who brought a cutting edge idea to us about engaging men in preventing relationship violence.  She’s moved on now, but I have no doubt in my mind that she was brought to us for just that  reason. Two of  the documentaries we’ve supported were led by mission mates of mine.  There is a closeness that exceeds the normal colleague bond.  We know it’s a mission, and that’s what brought us together, and each of us brings something to the table.

Mission soul mates can be very different people, and that can make the process tough.  Sometimes, the pair goes their own way, but what they started, be it a business, a project, a work of art, goes on. If the two involved know their own strengths and their own limitations and respect what the other brings, it’s magic.  My brother Ted and I are two vastly different people.  But, I’m absolutely convinced that we are mission soul mates.   In San Francisco, a few months back, I saw a tape of Joe Biden talking about violence prevention and he mentioned “Ted and Cindy”, almost as a team.  We may not see each other for months at a time, but we’re a team, and a team that was meant to be since we showed up in the same family in Iowa 50-0dd years ago.

Now for the real goody bag….


Over 20 years is a long time in Hollywood

According to interviews with both of these two, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick just knew that they were meant to be together.  They could be what is now called “twin souls”.  According to Sufi teachings, twin souls are like two Roman rings interlocking with each other, impossible to pull apart.  If you are a believer in many lifetimes, it is said that the two might experience many lifetimes, together and apart, until they arrive at a true twin soul bonding.

How do you know when you’ve met that person?  It might be like the famous line in Jerry Maguire, ” You had me at hello.”  We’ve all had love at first sight.  But, these delicious pairings are for life.  Doubts fly out the window, and there is a deep inner knowing that tells you this is the right one.  Trials and challenges will not break you up, you come back stronger.  Infidelity is rare, as you are no longer searching.  Most important, these relationships make us feel BETTER about ourselves, not worse.  They inspire us, they can improve our productivity, and they motivate us to be better people, to each other, to ourselves, and to our world.  Sometimes, twin souls come from vastly different backgrounds, races, cultures and social class.  They may be heterosexual pairs or same sex.  No matter.  They will happen if they are meant to be.

Perhaps the most beautiful tribute I ever read, to this kind of soul mate was written by Nobel Prize winning biochemist Kary Mullis to his wife Nancy, in his dedication to his book, “Dancing Naked in the Mind Field”.

Here it is.

Jean Paul Sartre somewhere observed that each of us make our own hell out of the people around us.  Had Jean Paul known Nancy, he may have noted that at least one man, someday might get very lucky, and make his own heaven out of the people around him.  She will be his morning and his evening star, shining with the brightest and softest light in his heaven.  She will be the end of his wanderings, and their love will arouse the daffodils in the spring to follow the crocuses and proceed the irises.  Their faith in one another will be deeper than time and their eternal spirit will be seamless once again.

Or maybe he just would have said,  “If I’d had a woman like that, my books wouldn’t be about despair.”

This book is not about despair.  It’s about a little bit about a lot of things, and if not a single one of them is wet with sadness, it is not due to my lack of depth; it is due to a year of Nancy, and the prospect of never again being without her.       Kary Mullis, “Dancing Naked in the Mind Field”. 1998

Here’s to many years with our soul mates, each and every one.


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July 16th, 2012


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The Poem

June 30th, 2012

The poem that brought us together

“Some things that happened for the first time, seem to be happening again.

And so, it seems we’ve met before, and laughed before and loved before,

but who knows where or when?”

Rodgers and Hart, 1937

I didn’t see it coming, but HE did. He predicted it, without knowing that the prediction was about him. It was 10 years ago, and it came in a birthday poem he wrote for me.

One of the beautiful things about this life is that the mystical and the magical do happen. They usually happen to me when I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, or doing exactly what I was meant to do. One of those moments happened to me when the millenium was new, and no one knew what that would bring.

Karen and Eric Blumberg came into my life in 2000, when they were new to Sioux City, having arrived from their home in Austin, Texas. From what he tells me now, when his long time station in Austin, where he was a talk show host, changed their format, he found himself looking for another place to land. So, improbably perhaps, they landed here. I met Karen first, and we immediately connected. Karen was unforgettable, fiery, passionate, and intense, as well as warm and nurturing to those she loved, and she loved me, as I did her. Eric was more difficult to get to know, or at least that’s what he projected. He was tough on the air, and seemed tough in life, with a New Yorker’s bit of attitude and a formidable intellect that could intimidate He kept people at a distance, but because I’m good at lightening up tough characters, he and I developed a friendship as well. I was with my ex husband Steve at the time, and the four of us began spending a lot of time together. We were all right brained people in a left brained world and found much to like about each other, as well as finding much to learn.

Karen was a poet, and a good one. What I didn’t know was that Eric was a poet as well, but hadn’t written anything for years. When I found that out, I asked to see his work. It was stunning. I think it was May or June and I challenged him to write me a poem for my July 3rd birthday. he took the challenge, but I didn’t hold out much hope that he would deliver. But he did. One day, my phone rang and he told me he’d finished my poem. I was surprised he’d made the effort to call, as Eric’s social calls were pretty non existent. The telephone, for Eric, was a tool. It’s how he got his interviews, tracked down stories, and communicated with his listeners in that amazing radio voice he has, but away from work, I sensed, correctly, that he used it sparingly. We met and he showed it to me, typed up and put into a letter sized birthday card with otherwordly fairy creatures on the front. Being Eric, he didn’t sign it…it just said, “May your heart always be young and your dreams live forever”.

Still a bit surprised by this mystical card and its message, I got to the poem. The title was simply, “To Cindy”. It began:  Silence covered the landscape, a misty shroud of unfulfilled expectations. Is he talking about me?, I thought. It went on to describe a woman who is aging, is trapped in a tower of her own making, and hopes to find love before what looks she has go completely to rack and ruin…“My beauty needs recognition as the forest cold closes in”. Yes, indeed, he’s talking about me. How does he know all this, we aren’t that close, really…but it seems, he did, and on some level that didn’t come from conscious knowledge, but a deeper, more intuitive place. He sensed that I wasn’t as happy as I seemed and he put it into these beautiful words.

It went on…”Suddenly, the horse drawn hope…” there was a graying man heading towards the tower…some hope, I think, someone coming, damn, this is getting good. It was as if he was projecting his wish for me, and saying “I get it, I know where you are, but here’s what I hope for you as your friend. Don’t give up.” His “prediction” wasn’t conscious at all, it was simply his wish. He was someone who recognized my quiet pain, and wanted to write a better future for me into existence. Little did he know that he called it and called it right.

Years went by, and in 2003, after 5 years with the radio station, he was summarily fired for expressing his anti war views on the air. That seemed to happen to a lot of journalists in those days. He and Karen eventually returned to Austin, and she and I stayed in touch. She called one day, in early 2006, and in a heart stopping moment, told me she was seriously ill. She was gone by April. I felt so lucky to have gone down to see her, to close the chapter and to bless a great friendship. I kept in touch, as she had asked, with her daughters, but Eric kind of faded out of all our lives. I would think of him now and then, and hoped he was all right. I attempted a connection once, but heard nothing back. He was being Eric, the part of him I didn’t like, and as I came to find out, he didn’t like either.

In 2009, after a break up with Steve, I was cleaning out my home office and I ran across an old piece Eric had written about my late father a week or two after he died. In Eric’s way, he’d seen things in my father that I had seen, and expressed them perfectly, as he usually does most things. It reminded me of the poem he’d written, the one about my future, and I looked all over the house to see if I still had it. Being suddenly single, I wondered, at this late stage, would his poem come to life….was there someone around the corner that I didn’t see yet? I finally found it in the strangest place. It had been in a end table drawer, on the bottom of a pile of papers I’d saved, for at least seven years. A day or so later, a friend of mine told me she was going to Austin for a wedding, and I thought she might want to look up Karen’s family. When reminders of the past pile up, or I run across something a number of times, it usually means something to me. I followed the signs.

I found him, still in Austin, now working in the mental health field happily for 5 years, living with the oldest daughter. We talked for a long time, longer than I’d imagined. I had a lot to say, as I usually do, and he was still a great interviewer. He still got me, even though I hadn’t totally figured him out. Somewhat impulsively, I invited him to visit, and even more impulsively, he booked a ticket the next day. He stayed for 5 days, came back, stayed for 10, and came back in 2009 and stayed forever. And… there you have it.

We were old enough, and smart enough, to know very quickly that it was right. We talked about the poem, which he said was simply his wish for me back then, not knowing that the aging ”horse drawn hope” was himself.

One night, shortly before we were married in 2011, I told Eric about a sign I’d been having for years, that I had decided was my good luck sign, and particularly the sign that a great love was someday coming. The sign was… a pink car, not something you see too often. It came out of a near accident in London, where a man in a pink cab shouted out to me to “take care”. I told him that a few weeks before he came to visit, I’d seen a pink car and thought….hmmm. He thought that was interesting but asked if I hadn’t seen another pink car the day he arrived here on his first visit, the first time we’d seen each other in 3 years. I told him I hadn’t. He said, “Yes, you did, I was wearing it”. He went to the closet and pulled out an old jacket he’d had forever, and the one he wore the day he got here. It was a black denim jacket, well worn, and I’d seen him wear it. I’d never noticed the back of it, which said, “The Geezinslaw Brothers” ( a band he’d played with), “Shiny nineties world tour.”

And under that, was a car. It was pink. He always was more observant than I am.

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